Lakers need to shoot better against OKC
OKLAHOMA CITY -- The Los Angeles Lakers are a team built around one of the most dominant scorers in NBA history in Kobe Bryant and one of the most skillful and well-rounded scoring big men in the game in Pau Gasol.
So it's a simple yet strange notion: If the Lakers are going to take a commanding 3-0 lead in their best-of-seven first-round matchup with the Oklahoma City Thunder, they are going to have to shoot the ball a lot better.
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As the series shifts to the Ford Center in Oklahoma City for Game 3 on Thursday, the Lakers will look to shake off their 39.2 percent shooting in the first two games of the series and sharpen their shots in one of the most boisterous road arenas in the league.
"I just thought our shooting was horrendous," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said after Game 2, calling out Ron Artest (2-for-10), Derek Fisher (2-for-10) and Lamar Odom (2-for-9) by name for their poor performances.
Artest has been the most errant shot launcher out of the three for the first two games, shooting 5-for-21 (23.8 percent) overall and an even more anemic 2-for-14 (14.3 percent) on 3-pointers, when many of those deep shots have been uncontested catch-and-shoot opportunities bred out of the triangle.
While Bryant's recent shooting slump has been dissected every which way by the media, Artest's struggles have gone somewhat unnoticed. Coming into the playoffs, Artest shot just 34.4 percent overall in seven games.
Artest was asked about his struggles Wednesday, and the 6-foot-7 forward deflected the questions, telling reporters, "I just hope I get stops; I want to continue to play defense."
Part of the exploration of Bryant's woes included the speculation that his fractured right index finger was hurting him more than he was letting on. Just as Artest's shooting has gone under the radar, so too has the possibility that his hands are hurting his shot in similar fashion. Artest sprained his right index finger on Jan. 12 against San Antonio and has played with it taped up ever since. He also has a sprained left thumb, on his non-shooting hand, that's also heavily taped.
Fisher hit three big 3-pointers in Game 1, including one with 1:30 remaining in the fourth quarter to put L.A. up by 10 and seal the deal, but he is shooting just 27.3 percent through two games, which is even worse than his already underwhelming 38.0 percent regular-season average.
Odom's 30.8 percent shooting isn't as troubling as his seemingly less-aggressive nature. He is averaging just 5.5 points per game, nearly half of his 10.8 points per game in the regular season, and hasn't flourished in his return to the team's sixth man role.
"I think Lamar has to give us an imprint in the ballgame," Jackson told reporters Wednesday. "Opportunities are going to be in shots and little things like that and probably little pockets he finds to make penetration."
It doesn't help things that Sasha Vujacic, the team's designated 3-point shooter, is likely out for the series with a severe left ankle sprain or that Shannon Brown, another scorer off the bench with 3-point range capabilities, is playing with a sprained thumb on his shooting hand.
But everybody has to shoot better.
Even Bryant and Gasol.
The Lakers' All-Stars haven't had a ton of success shooting the ball against the Thunder, either. While Bryant had a breakout game Tuesday with 39 points, he still shot just 12-for-28, and he's still shooting only 38.3 percent for the series. Gasol has been much better through two games, shooting 53.6 percent from the field, but was reminded of Oklahoma City's successful defense against him in the past when ESPN radio analyst Dr. Jack Ramsay told Gasol before the series that he shot worse against the Thunder than against any other team during the regular season. (Gasol was 13-for-33, 39.4 percent, in three games.)
The encouraging thing for L.A. is that while the crowd might be "rocking and rolling" Thursday, as Bryant predicted it would be, the baskets will still be 10 feet high, the free throw line still 15 feet from the backboard and the 3-point line still 23 feet, 9 inches from the rim at the top of the key and 22 feet from it in the corners.
Now the Lakers just have to make some baskets.
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.